Reissues provided some of the year's best

ON POPULAR MUSIC

January 04, 2007|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

Just as much as I look forward to new music every year, I also greatly anticipate reissues. Sometimes, I enjoy the revisited material more than the new stuff. And that was more or less the case last year. In concluding my look back at the music of 2006, I spotlight the reissues I couldn't get enough of.

The Sisters Love Give Me Your Love

You probably have never even heard of this group. And that's understandable, because the Sisters Love never had a real hit. The group evolved from the Cookies, which turned into the Raylettes, Ray Charles' backing group in the 1960s.

This compilation, the first ever of the Sisters Love, collects singles the quartet recorded for A&M and Motown between 1967 and 1973. There's not a dud here; all 16 cuts are explosive amalgamations of gospel, rock and funk. The title cut, a remake of the 1972 Curtis Mayfield joint, came and went in 1973. But the single is one of the early harbingers of disco, complete with a smoothed-out bass-and-drum break in the middle.

Over the years, the rare recording has become a prime, high-priced item for collectors and crate diggers, especially in England. Other highlights on the set include "Ha Ha Ha," a blistering gospel-funk mash-up that probably inspired the sound of Labelle, and "Now Is the Time," a searing, full-throttle anthem of brotherly love.

Although the production sounds dated here and there, there's no denying the power of these sistas' soaring voices. Lovers of deep '70s soul should check this out.

Lorraine Ellison Sister Love: The Warner Bros. Recordings

Here's another obscure act whose music I dug into this year. Rhino Handmade, a specialty division of Rhino Records, released this limited-edition three-disc set on the overlooked Philly soul singer. Her high, wild, gospel-charged style influenced the great Laura Nyro.

Backed by sympathetic production courtesy of Jerry Ragovoy, Ellison's best Warner Bros. sides place her vocals in open, jazz-inflected arrangements. Her best-known song (and only hit) was "Stay With Me" from 1966. But that ballad, as moving as it is, barely scratches the surface of this woman's artistry. Her take of the Gershwin classic "My Man's Gone Now" is a theatrical gem. She dives head first into the pain of the lyrics without ever crumbling into melisma.

With a third disc of demos, Sister Love is an exhaustive collection, especially for a '60s one-hit wonder. But Ellison, who died of cancer in 1983, is definitely worth rediscovering.

Pretenders Pretenders

Punk pretenders have always littered the scene. But Chrissie Hynde and company kept it real on this great 1980 debut. There's nothing stagy about the attitude bristling on songs like "Brass in Pocket" and "The Wait." Hynde eschews rock stereotypes with songs that easily swing from steely and defensive to soft and vulnerable.

A quarter of a century after it first hit record shops, Pretenders still retains its freshness and vitality, which is more than can be said about much of the overwrought, attitude-for-a-dollar punk rock heard nowadays.

Various Artists What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves

Yet another fabulous box set Rhino put out in 2006. For this one, the company combed the Warner Bros. vaults, cherry-picking 91 songs, many of which hadn't ever been reissued. Several of the acts featured here -- Titus Turner, the Unemployed, the Stovall Sisters -- have long faded into obscurity.

But the pumpin' grooves, many of which have been sampled by hip-hop producers, will still make your hip dip and your backbone slip. Invigorating, organic instrumentation abounds. This box set is worth digging into, if only for the stripped-down, psychedelic 1971 alternate take of "Rock Steady" by Aretha Franklin.

Various Artists Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story

This is perhaps the finest collection commemorating the work of the acclaimed DJ, remixer and occasional producer. His magic behind the turntables at Paradise Garage, the storied late '70s-early '80s New York disco, inspired DJs all over the city and overseas.

Folks came from everywhere to check out Levan's mixes. And several classic ones are featured on this two-disc set. Familiar tunes such as Chaka Khan's "Clouds" and Patrice Rushen's "Haven't You Heard" appear alongside such hard-to-find Levan remixes as David Joseph's "You Can't Hide (Your Love From Me)" and Dee Dee Bridgewater's "Bad For Me."

But beyond celebrating Levan's skills as remixer, Journey Into Paradise finely encapsulates the spirit of late '70s-early '80s dance music. At that point, disco had become harder with more pronounced electronic touches, giving way to the development of house music.

It's been a long time since dance music engendered the naive, sweaty hedonism you find pulsing through the 22 tracks on Journey Into Paradise. It's an enthralling trip.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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